Does Your New Year’s Resolution Answer The Right Question?

Happy New Year, everyone!  Let’s take our joy seriously!

Soon 2014 will be a memory.  Most of it already is.  And for the month of January, the gyms will be crowded with people who are all pretty sure they’re going to get fit this year; thankfully most of them will be out of your way by February and it’ll be business as usual.

For the rest of us, who take our happiness seriously, it’s a time to approach life for a checkup.  So grab a glass of wine and spend the next few minutes with me as I humbly offer something that might clarify things for you.

By now you know I’ve been a self help student for decades.  Self help, as you know if you’ve read my blog much, is something I both enjoyed and resented through the years.  I enjoyed it because it gave me hope that things would get better during dark and impoverished times, but I also resented it because in retrospect I feel strongly that really, hope is the only thing it gave me.  I didn’t realize that all I had to do was ask myself The Right Question.

It wasn’t all bad, though.  Every single book offered me at least something I could use.  And in the middle of all the rah-rah coaches there are quite a few thoughtfully-written and useful books.  I’d like to share a couple of ideas I learned from what I consider to be the best and most comprehensive one about goalsetting, All About Goals & How to Achieve Them by Jack Ensign Addington.

I’ve included a couple of pictures of pages I found particularly relevant, one with my notes on it.  My whole self help library is like this, dog-eared and worn books with my notes and underlining.

Is setting New Years’ Resolutions a waste of time?

I don’t advocate spending a lot of time on goalsetting.  Don’t confuse setting goals with “sharpening the axe” or practicing. I mean sitting down and thinking about what the next phase of your life is going to be like.  I don’t advocate it simply because if you already know who you are, you’ll be automatically moving toward things that motivate and delight you anyway.  When it comes to making a New Years resolution, let me remind you that talk is cheap.  Anyone can tell you they’re going to accomplish this or that this coming year.  So here’s what I’d rather do:

At the end of the year, tell people what your resolutions were.  Don’t bother telling them what you’re going to do, tell them what you did that you had resolved to do.

I’m a huge fan of what the French call a fait accompli, basically a short way of saying what’s done is done, and it’s easier to ask forgiveness than permission.

I’m not saying that setting goals is irrelevant.  I do it myself.  In fact, the last phrase in the Question is designed partly to get you thinking about your goal, whether in a specific situation or in an overarching life design session.  What I am saying is that you end up achieving things you never even knew should have been a goal in the first place as long as you’re aligned properly with who you are and what you feel is best for you in life.  I’m saying, spend enough time on it and move on.

From Addington, to me, to you

I made my book available with one caveat – that readers never divulge what the Question is.  I think if they pay me good money for the book, they have the right to have that investment protected (and so should I).  But I freely share thoughts in the book that aren’t the Question itself, and here’s one of them:  “In order to live the life of your dreams, you must become the person who could have that life.”

Jack Ensign Addington's book "All About Goals" presents some good ideas
Jack Ensign Addington’s book “All About Goals” presents some good ideas

In part, that was inspired by the passage in Addington’s book, and the phrase that helped me form that idea is here.  He says, “…when we identify with our goal and mentally live in the atmosphere of the attained goal, we are well on the way of achieving that goal.”

What he’s saying is that if you live your life as though you’re the person in that reality, already having attained that goal, it’s much more likely to be realized.  When you slide behind the wheel of your dream car you’ll drive it like it’s yours, not like you’re borrowing it from a nasty ogre.  When you take the vacation you’ve been working so hard for, you’ll give it your all and therefore get the most from it.  The most relaxation, and also the most fun.  You’ll probably meet the most interesting people too.

I also discuss this phenomenon in The Lottery Winners (see Succeed at Anything), but basically, it comes down to this – lottery winners end up bankrupt and hospitalized for stress and depression more often than those who don’t win.  And that’s because the way the rich handle money versus the poor is very, very different.  Winning a lottery doesn’t make you rich, it only gives you a lot of money.  In the sense I mean it here, there’s a big difference.

The Secret Referent

The second phrase seems unrelated, but I think a lot of people need help with it.  It refers to what Addington calls the “secret referent”.

The secret referent is the person whose permission you feel you need before you really start living your life the way you want to.  We consider people brave when they act in the face of criticism from their referent.  Think of Romeo and Juliet, the unfortunate offspring of Shakespeare-era Hatfields and McCoys, from families sworn to destroy each other and therefore incurring wrath not only from their own families for fraternizing with the enemy but from their beloved’s families as well.

The idea of the "Secret Referent" from Addington's "All About Goals"
The idea of the “Secret Referent” from Addington’s “All About Goals”

The passage I underlined reads, “Many emotionally immature people never get past the secret referent stage.”  He asks, “Are we choosing (goals) for ourselves or to please someone else?”, and I made a note underneath that which reads, “OR steering away from a treasured goal because its completion will not please the referent?”

It should be obvious what is meant by this, but I’ll state it in a different way.  If you really want a goal, you need to be sure that this goal has been chosen for your own benefit and not for the benefit of others.  These are questions such as, Are you taking over the family business because you want to, or because you feel it’s expected of you, or conversely, Are you blazing your own trail because you secretly want to take over the family business but you feel that this way you earn more respect?  Either way it’s all about the referent, not the goalsetter (you).

It’s also just as unlikely that any of the traditional self help methods are going to get you closer to what you truly want if you allow the disapproval of your referent to steer you away from a treasured goal.

However, I must caution you against Damage to Desire or a misunderstanding of the Law of Attraction.  What I mean is that many times our dreams come true and we don’t even know it because we don’t understand that there’s always something changed in translation between our desires and our reality.

Make sure you understand this.  I explain it fully in The Right Question.

Goodbye 2014, and thanks for everything

As we say goodbye to 2014 and open our arms to welcome the New Year, it’s a good time to think about the course we chose to steer this year.  To use the lawnmowing analogy in TRQ, we all hit some rocks buried in the tall grass along the way.  Some of them dented and dulled our blades; we needed to stop for a while, sharpen them, take a break and steel ourselves before pushing on.

But mowing the lawn is what gets the lawn mowed.  Not wanting it, not trying to figure out “why”, not setting it as a goal, not sitting on a mat wishing for it to get mowed.  Only cutting the grass stimulates it to grow more lush, rich, green and healthy.  Anything else qualifies as glorified wishing.

In the same way, self help made me feel great about the fact that my lawn was overgrown and full of weeds, but it shouldn’t have.  There should have been somebody writing The Right Question long before I did.

But better late than never.

Six Self-Help Myths that are Killing Your Success

After over twenty years of reading self help books, listening to tapes and podcasts and programs and watching videos until my eyes bled, I can tell you that the same old saws keep popping up in self help.  And not a single one of them does what it’s supposed to.

I’m unimpressed, to say the least, with the fact that self help took my money for years and at the end of it I was every bit as broke as I was when I started.  I had a library of materials that basically all said the same things, each author ripping off the one before.

So I turned my back on all of it and started using only the things I myself had learned along the way, and my fortunes turned around almost immediately.  In the process of earning my wealth I became a self help traitor, someone who is angry about the amount of time and money wasted by self help authors trying to get rich selling the same old crap everyone else has since Orison Swett Marden, another man who meant well but was just as irrelevant then as Tony Robbins is now.

I want to change all that.  I mean every word I say.  I’ve written a book that explores why self help and success lit is utter crap, and what you need to do instead.  You don’t have to want it, you don’t have to set goals, you don’t have to use the law of attraction, you don’t have to do anything except ask the right question and act on the answer.

Here is a list of my six favorite b.s. lines from the endless well of self help blather.

1)  “You’ve Got to Want It” (also known as “Find Your Passion”)

We’ve all heard many stories of success that basically fell into the lap of people who happened to come up with a new product, or who were in the right place at the right time to get the inside track on an investment of one kind or another.  Wanting it is great but it isn’t necessary – sometimes, it never came into the equation at all.  Not turning away from success is vital, but it isn’t the same thing as wanting it.

How many people in your dream career fell into it after their initial plan just didn’t pan out?  I can’t count the number of people I’ve met in life who are “living the dream” – they own beach bars, are realtors in tropical paradises, have fascinating positions in research or academia – who had no idea their life would even take them there, yet they’re successful by anyone’s definition.  They’re happy, they have rewarding lives, and they’re doing something financially rewarding that they enjoy.  Human wants are too fickle and mercurial to expect them to take you anywhere meaningful.  I’d use your wants for material goods, and when it comes to pursuing fulfilling spiritual or emotional quests such as a rewarding and rich marriage or family life, don’t even let that be a “want” – make it a “must”.  But you don’t need money for that.

There are lots of youtube videos from successful people (see shows such as “How I Made my Millions” in which the entrepreneurs describe how success just arrived at their door one day, more often than not from a completely unexpected quarter.  Tony Horton of P90X fame had a passion for acting, not bodybuilding or fitness training.  It was that passion for acting that led him to get himself in good physical shape so that he could secure more roles, and then one day, he happened to make a fitness video.  It’s true that if you do what you love, the money will follow, but you have to know a good thing when you see it.

2)  “Set Goals”

Am I insane, telling you that setting goals is killing your success?  Well, think of this:  How many times have you set a goal, only to never achieve it?  And each time that has happened, you’ve died a little more inside.  Having dreams and goals is important, but not in the way we think.  I’ve already said that our wants change too quickly to rely on them to lead us anywhere meaningful, and goals are often the same way.  I encourage you to set goals, absolutely, but not the way self help lit commonly tells you.

Goals are indeed useful tools.  Yes, you should word them in the present tense, in the positive, use them with emotionally-charged affirmations, all that stuff.  It’s all good.  But I’ve found not only from my own life but from those of successful people that a “goal” to us consists mostly of little more than a Very Clear Idea of what we want to do.  Your average millionaire simply doesn’t have time to plot and plan every single accomplishment, because there are too many out there to pursue.

Have a clear idea of what you want, and recognize when you’re both on and off track towards it.  Know how you’re going to measure your progress, decide which corrections you’re going to make, and play the game as the ref blows the whistle.  Often just having a goal of being in the game is enough to win.  Ask those who have ended up on top simply because nobody else bothered to show up.

3)  “The power of ‘why’ ”

Trying to find out why is taking valuable time and energy away from actually doing the work that will make you a success.  Knowing why you aren’t getting off the couch isn’t necessarily going to change a thing.  Trying to figure out why you overeat or spend all your money only gives you more information about why you’re doing things wrong.  But you want to know how you’re going to do things right, and it doesn’t necessarily follow that the opposite of what you’ve done in the past is going to give you the result you want.  We all know why rehab clinics exist – it’s because people keep putting chemicals into their body that they know are harmful.  Okay great, now what?  We need more than “why” to get and keep us in the life we want.

4)  “Visualize your outcome”

Firstly, this annoys me because it’s grammatically incorrect to begin with.  It should read, “Visualize your desired outcome”, but that’s a little nitpicky.  Is this the right time to mention that ‘overwhelm’ is not a noun?

Anyway, self help gurus take a lot of time telling you to visualize how great your life is going to be once your goal is realized.  But that’s completely redundant.

If I’m standing in the back yard with a shovel about to dig the hole where the pond will be for a beautifully-landscaped water feature, I don’t need help visualizing how great it’ll be once it’s done.  I already know it’ll be great when it’s done, that’s why I want it.  What I need is something that will actually help me do the work when it’s too hot out, and when my back hurts, and when the goal seems too far away.  I don’t need help visualizing how awesome it’s going to be when I’m cruising in my new Ferrari, I need help getting out of bed when I’m not feeling well to go in for overtime in order to pay for the thing in the first place.  If I’m trying to lose weight, imagining myself slim when I’m not just frustrates the hell out of me and makes me go and eat cake.

I don’t need help imagining myself slim and rich, I already want that because I already know it’s going to be great.  I need help when I’m trying to decide between a soft drink and a glass of water, because that and a thousand other moments just like it are what’s going to determine what I weigh a month from now.

5)  “Use the ‘Law of Attraction’ ”

Basically, this is prayer.  You set your goal, you visualize achieving it, you open yourself to the abundance of the universe, and the universe provides.

The thing about the Law of Attraction isn’t a question of whether it works, but rather the fact that it does.  However, it receives a lot of justifiably bad press because LoA gurus for the most partly simply don’t understand that the hardest thing about using it is knowing when it has been made manifest in your life.  In this respect most people are abject failures because they haven’t been told what exactly is at work here and what to look for to know when their prayers are answered.

For a quick, concise, accurate and useful explanation of what the Law of Attraction is and how it works, you can turn to well-written books on the subject such as that by Michael Losier, or even better, read the one-page summation in The Right Question.

6)  “Take Massive Action”

What he heck does that even mean?  I kick you out the door and say, “Go get ‘em, tiger!  Take massive action!” and you turn around and say “Well, okay.”  “NO,” I scream, “MASSIVE action!  Think BIG!” and you sound more and more confident each time I scream at you, and then finally you turn around and say, “But what exactly do I do?”  And that’s a darn fine question.

It’s all well and good to say “Take massive action”, but it’s meaningless.  ‘Massive’ is too subjective of a word to be of any use, and ‘action’ needs to be defined.  This is exactly the kind of phrase that gets my blood boiling when it comes to self help and success lit, because it sounds like it has a lot of weight and meaning, but when you ask the person saying it what they’re talking about, the best you’ll get is an answer about how you just need to work harder and longer and ‘smarter’.

You need to act in accordance with where you are now versus where you want to be.  That’s what you need to do.  Ask any dog who has dug under a fence if taking ‘massive’ action would have helped him get any more free than the actions he did take.  Short of renting a backhoe, the dog just simply did what he needed to do to get under the fence, and now he’s off enjoying his day.

He may or may not have been using self help techniques as they’re described above.  He may have been taking ‘massive’ action, or you could say he took ‘appropriate’ action.  Both those words are subjective and therefore not helpful.  He might have kept in mind ‘why’ he wanted to keep digging, and kept his goal in sight, but when his paws started hurting and he got thirsty there was only one question he was answering, I’ll guarantee it.

If you want to dig yourself under that fence and get free, you have to do the same thing.

Self help focuses on a lot of concepts that seem like common sense.  At first blush, all these things sound perfectly logical.  But the way they’re presented in self help lit all too often ignores the most basic, fundamental approaches to using them – and it doesn’t provide the answer you need when you’re trying to get yourself to actually do the work that’s going to determine your future, both deciding and discovering in advance how successful you’re going to be.

Only answering The Right Question will help you do that.

Way of the Weekend Warrior

Think of all the great things you’re going to do with your life.  All the wonderful, fun, enjoyable and rewarding things you’re going to dive into that leave you breathless and exhausted at the end of the day, ready to get up the next morning (when your body’s ready, not to a pesky alarm) and do all over again.

Instead of just letting those images go by, let’s grab them and start to wonder, When am I going to do them?  This year, at all?  Next year?  Am I ever going to do these great things I keep thinking of?

Now the natural inclination is to wonder, “Wait a minute, why aren’t I doing these things now?  What’s stopping me, why don’t I go after what I want?”

Instantly you’ve been pulled off track.  Now you’re into the realm of thinking about “why” instead of taking action.

Let’s face it, daydreaming about how wonderful life could be is often a lot more enjoyable than working towards a version of that life that we suspect isn’t going to be as great as our daydreams.  We don’t have to be Einstein to see that for the average person, dreaming about owning a mansion straight out of Downton Abbey is a heck of a lot cheaper than actually trying to buy one, and a lot less hassle than moving into one and ensuring that there is enough staff to keep it clean and keep all the occupants fed.  Naturally, you’d have all your family and best friends living there, or at least dropping in a lot; never mind the fact that hardly any of them have the same interest you do in even visiting old mansions let alone packing up and moving into one.

When it comes to the dreams you have for your own life, what about those?  What about your current house?  For many, it’s more fun to think about what it would look like once you’ve renovated it than it is to actually get out your tools and start work.

“Why don’t I start work on that cabinet refinishing?  Why aren’t I writing that book?  What’s stopping me from buying an old car and entering the weekend races?”  All these questions are, in my view, diversions from actually doing those things.

In The Right Question, I spend a bit of time discussing the Instinctive You.  I think that anytime you’re avoiding doing something that will potentially reward you in some way, it’s the Instinctive You at work somewhere.  If you really want to know why you’re avoiding these things, all you have to do is ask the Right Question.  Asking “Why is it that I spend my spare time in front of the TV instead of designing that app, researching that book, or designing that site?” isn’t really the best question you could be asking, simply because knowing the reason why isn’t necessarily going to get you off the couch any faster than not knowing.

It’s been said that knowledge is power but that’s not the whole story.  Knowledge isn’t power.  A hammer flying through the air doesn’t know anything at all, but it sure has power.  Ask anyone who’s been hit by one.  The power of a tool rests only in its use, and the same is true of knowledge.  Knowing why you’re wasting your life isn’t necessarily going to get you any closer to doing anything about it.  In fact, more often than not, all it’s going to do is give you an excuse to continue *not* doing anything about it!

I can’t count the number of times I’ve seen this in action, especially when it comes to medical diagnoses.  Think about how many times you might have seen someone behave a certain way and reject any offers of help.  Then when a diagnosis comes in from a doctor, it serves as an excuse to them that they were right all along to refuse help, and it’s the reason why they can’t do this or that or the other thing.  They’re going to live unfulfilled lives but they’ll gladly take your sympathy, because ultimately in their mind it’s easier to dream about having a great life than actually working towards one.

However, as far as I’m concerned, they couldn’t be more wrong.  I disagree that it’s easier to dream than to actualize.  I’ve been all the way from poor to rich and made a stop everywhere in between, and I can tell you, living a wealthy life is every bit as great as you imagine.  Not having to set an alarm ever again – unless you’re getting up to catch a plane, of course – is a rare and wonderful privilege, and the reason why not many enjoy it is because not enough people apply the Right Question.

Allow me to suggest that you try the following experiment:  Imagine your life without television, without checking your phone for messages every two minutes, without distracting yourself by eating or whatever else you’re doing that’s dragging you under.  Imagine how long you could survive without these things while you do something you really want to do instead.  Imagine sitting at your computer to design your site or app or write something, instead of pointlessly surfing and wasting time. Imagine being outside and tending the garden instead of just wishing beautiful things would grow.

Mark some time on your calendar to actually live like that.  Even if it’s only one day.  For some people, that’s a lot.  Make it three, four days, a week if you like, but be careful not to set a goal that sounds great but which you secretly know you’ll not be able to achieve.  Setting yourself up to fail is what the Instinctive You is good at, for reasons explained in the book, so don’t let that happen.

If you work a regular work week, I’d suggest you design your weekend around this concept.  Leave the television off, and set your phone to airplane mode while you do something you’ve been meaning to do, or something you secretly enjoy.  Get out your guitar, your app builder, your painting, whatever, and actually do it.  Not just for an hour, either.  Live like that for the whole weekend.  When you’ve done some work on your project, relax for a while.  Stay away from the tv.  Then imagine what else you’re doing in your ideal life, and do that.  Then imagine something else, and do that.

Believe me, at first this will drive you batty.  You’ll be so far out of your comfort zone it’ll make your head spin.  I know it sounds weird, but living the life of your dreams *for real* will make you feel like Alice in Wonderland.  Even in your own living room, things will seem different.  This is because in order to live the life of your dreams, you must become the person who could have that life, and you’re spending the weekend learning just what that person is like.

Additionally, you need to get a feel for what it’s like to work towards a goal instead of just dream about it.  They’re two totally different things.  When we daydream about how great life will be once we’re rich, our imagination completely, totally, unreservedly skips over the actions we’ll be taking to both get there and stay there.  There are a number of reasons for this, but if you’ve read The Right Question you’ll realize they don’t matter.  We can speculate all day long about those reasons, and at the end of the day, it’ll be bedtime and we’ll have wasted another twenty-four hours.

At the end of the time period, check in with how you feel.  Don’t do it before then!  During this time, the Instinctive You will try and convince you that you’re wasting your time or will in some way try and drag you off track.  Don’t let it happen.  Remember, the life of your dreams is going to happen to you if it happens at all, so make sure you take control of your thoughts and feelings.

When it’s over, you can go back to your routine of watching television and surfing and playing video games.  But I guarantee you that in the back of your mind you’ll be thinking about what you’ve learned about yourself – what kinds of actions you’ll need to take in order to break out of your life into the one you want, and you’ll never be the same again.

If that’s what you’re afraid of, ask the Right Question and relax.  You’ll be fine.

Pretty soon we’ll discuss how wise it is to love the life you already have, but that, as they say, is another story.